My last post expressed my biggest worry about Donald Trump: that he won’t be sufficiently firm with Vladimir Putin to persuade him to stop his aggression in Eastern Europe. The American Enterprise Institute’s Leon Aron has an excellent analysis of the Putin problem, “Changing Putin’s Mind.” Says Mr. Aron:
Vladimir Putin has called the demise of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.” The overarching objective of Putin’s policies, both domestic and external, is to recover and repossess the political, economic and geostrategic assets lost by the Soviet state when it fell apart in the 1990s.
In Putin’s first two terms as Russian President, from 2000 – 2008, he focused on restoring the economy. But by 2012, when Putin returned to power, the domestic investment climate had slowed to a crawl with low oil prices causing a severe recession. Putin shifted the foundation of his regime’s legitimacy from economic expansion to patriotic mobilization.
The reason for the annexation of Crimea, war on Ukraine and intervention in Syria is that restoring Russia’s superpower pride is essential to his regime’s legitimacy. This is the point of a classic Soviet poster (attached) with a Russian soldier admonishing Uncle Sam, “Don’t you fool around!”
In Syria, Putin’s goal is to help Bashar al Assad, not defeat ISIS, and so Assad must not be restored. This could be accomplished by grounding the Syrian air force, enforcing no-fly zones, etc. and forcing Putin to distance himself from Damascus.
In Ukraine, Putin will not stop unless battlefield dynamics begin to change by, for example, sending Ukraine defensive anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, radars to pinpoint Russian positions, etc. Putin must be forced to make a choice between increasing Russian deployment and thus casualties or seeking a genuine peace agreement.
Conclusion. The choice is between two admittedly risky and unpleasant options: confronting Putin now or see him emboldened to the point where he attempts to destabilize a member state on NATO’s eastern flank.
What happened in Paris could also easily happen in London, New York City or Washington D.C. and soon will if our President does not adequately respond to the threat of terrorism. As the Wall Street Journal declared yesterday, “For seven years Mr. Obama has used the unpopularity of the Iraq war as a shield for his retreat from anti-terror leadership and the Middle East.” The American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka informs us that:
NATO aircraft scrambled more than 500 times in 2014, with only a few exceptions, in reaction to Russian incursions into NATO member airspace.
In 2014, Japan scrambled aircraft almost 1000 times, with all but a few of these incidents attributed to either Russian or Chinese warplanes.
Russian bombers entered US airspace 10 times in 2014, double the previous average.
Ms. Pletka also suggests how we should respond to four years of carnage in the Middle East:
The first step is to actually have a strategy, rather than a series of reactive tactics and incremental escalations.
The second step is to build a coalition with sub-state and national partners that we trust and that trust us to stick with the job.
The good news is that there is still time to lead a decisive war against ISIS.
There is no need to launch broadsides against all Muslims, the Syrian people and refugees in general. It is Islam extremists who are attacking us, not mainstream Islamists.
The world is a dangerous place and we have many enemies. On this website I am mostly focused on our own fiscal and economic problems which are very serious and need to be dealt with in a timely manner. However the immediate safety and security of our country is the highest priority of all and, on occasion, takes precedence over everything else. Now is a time for such heightened vigilance.